Real Discussions: Olympics 2012 – What is Real Progress?

Before the 2012 Olympic games began in London this July, they were already being labeled as the “Women’s Games.” A historic mark was made when we learned that for the first time, not only would women be participating in all 26 sports, but that every country entered was sending female athletes. However, even with all of these positive changes, a debate has been brewing. Are these games really the Women’s Games or have we still not made big enough steps to call it our year?

“The progress at London was a major boost for gender equality, with equality and neutrality two of the most important Games values.” says International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

Female athletes train hard for the Olympics. They go to win and this year has been no different. Breaking 38 world records so far, they have proven themselves time and again. We saw amazing displays of skill and endurance from competitors such as Kayla Harrison who captured the first ever USA women’s gold in judo, Missy Franklin who won 4 gold medals and a bronze while breaking 2 world records in swimming, and Gabby Douglas who took home 2 gold medals and became the first African American woman to win gold in gymnastics. It’s not surprising that USA’s women are taking home so much gold, this was also the first time we sent more female athletes to the games than men.

“The 2012 Olympics have been hailed as the ‘Women’s Games’ for including women in all sports and from all national teams with campaigners hoping this will lead to more role models in sport and increase female participation in physical activity.” writes Megan Gibson for Time.

It’s easy to see why these were dubbed the Women’s Games, the successes of the women are obvious. However, in our celebration have we been overlooking the backwards steps for true athlete gender equality? The fact that women have only 132 events in the games and men have 162, giving men 30 more chances to win gold, the negative comments and derogatory remarks; these are not indications of equal standards. Some view these games as a “statistical victory for female participation, but not real progress” – Jen Floyd Engel for Fox Sports.

Negative comments and remarks about weight, looks, sexual orientation, and ethnicity are being flung around the arena and have left female athletes wounded and feeling defensive. More attention has been paid to the neatness of Gabby Douglas’ hair than her historical accomplishment. The women’s beach volleyball team was described as “glistening wet otters” in their bathing suits by London Mayor Boris Johnson. Japanese female soccer players and the women’s Australian basketball team flew to the games in economy seats while their male counterparts flew business class with claims being they “don’t need as much leg room” when in fact 12 of the women were taller than the shortest male athlete.

Zoe Smith, a British weightlifter was attacked on Twitter by people saying she looked like a “lesbian” and a “bloke.” She won several fans by defending herself saying “We don’t lift weights in order to look hot.” It’s hard to classify this as our year when there are several glaring steps backward for gender equality in sports. We shouldn’t allow this behavior to continue with little to no consequence. It makes you wonder if it’s really about the sports at all.

So the questions beg to be asked – have we made enough progress to truly call this the Women’s Games? Or should we stand up and say it will be our year when we see true athlete gender equality?

Posted on August 13, 2012, in Real Discussions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. When certain countries fail to medal in the numbers expected by their respective leaders, major investments are made to improve the outcome. To the decision-makers I say, whether equality or number of medals is your motivation, London 2012 would tell you to invest that money in women. Also, since U.S. athletes stand on the victory podiums more often than any others, I urge our athletes (men and women) to leverage their power and influence to speak out against these injustices and lead the way on advancing gender equality. Finally, as individuals we can do a better job congratulating rather than criticizing women athletes, and challenge (dare I say admonish) critics who make thoughtless, harmful remarks.

  2. I think the same is true of every woman competing in each of the 26 categories of events. Perhaps Marnie McBean, three-time Canadian Olympic champion and a mentor to Canadian Olympians since 2006, put it best. In her book The Power of More, McBean makes the case that to accomplish goals, whether they be in sport, in business, in life, you have to believe in the importance of doing a little bit more all the time. Break down the task into manageable bits of more, she says. And that’s exactly what women have done to achieve gender equality at the Olympic games. Well done women. You are all golden.

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